Review by Angie Bedford
The recent film success of The Artist demonstrated the
beautiful genre that is the silent film, and the storytelling skill
required of the silent actor to communicate emotion without the spoken
Sunset Boulevard told this story many years ago, with the original 1950
film by Billy Wilder, and then through Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical
adaptation, which was realised in the early 1990s.
Fleeing car repossession agents, struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis
(Mark Doran) pulls into the Sunset Boulevard garage of aging silent
film star, Norma Desmond (Maureen Andrew), who mistakenly invites him
in, but allows him to stay and help edit her terrible film adaptation
of the biblical Salome story.
Joe stays for several months due to an obligation to the possessive
Norma, whilst juggling writing and a burgeoning affair with script
editor Betty Schaefer (Alexandra Clover).
Sunset Boulevard is acknowledged as one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most
popular and successful shows (although the scale of the production and
a bunch of lawsuits have made it a financial liability), however it is
one of his weaker works, not remotely in the same ball park as Jesus
Christ Superstar and Phantom of the Opera.
This is largely due to tedious sung dialogue which isn’t musically
interesting. It begs the question: does the story really need to be a
musical? Fortunately, the title song and Norma’s ‘With One Look’ and
‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’ save the day in this department, with a
rousing quality suitable for such a big star.
interpretation of ‘Sunset Boulevard’ was stirring and gratifying. His
interpretation of Gillis was engaging and made the best of the
Certainly all the best writing in this
show is reserved for the larger than life role of Norma Desmond.
Andrew’s interpretation had the alluring quality required of such a
role and although the gusto wasn’t always there vocally, she physically
embodied the role well.
This was greatly assisted by Nerissa
Saville’s brilliant costume design (who should start making some room
on her trophy shelf) with perfectly excessive amounts of drapes,
jewels, prints, turbans and shoes to emphasise Norma’s former glory.
Saville’s skills also translated beautifully into 1950s daywear,
tailored suits and cute as a button beautician outfits.
great supporting cast included Alexandra Clover as Betty Schaefer,
Phillip Lambert as Max Von Mayerling, Ken Jones as Cecil B. Demille and
Michael Butler as Artie Green who all performed well, despite few
opportunities to really develop the key relationships. A great Ensemble
played a variety of minor and cameo roles.
The biggest star of the show was Brenton Staples’ set
versatility was on show with a number of exterior and interior
settings, ranging from Paramount Studios to Schwab’s Drugstore and
Norma’s pool and garage. Of course these were dwarfed by the stunning
interior of Norma’s mansion complete with an ornate sweeping staircase,
marble floors, imposing portraits, golden trims and an organ. The house
earned deserved applause on its first appearance. Kudos to the crew for
incredibly smooth and quiet transitions.
lighting design was incredibly detailed and effective. The interior
lighting through Norma’s window was particularly beautiful.
McCalman’s orchestra were tight and majestic. Again, the title song was
a highlight. Chris Bradtke’s Direction and James Rooney’s choreography
complemented each other well and used the set to its potential. The
inclusion of projected black and white images in the action scenes were
a nice nod to the silent film genre of yesteryear.
sublime production values make up for the clunkiness of Sunset
Boulevard’s book and score, and will surely rank of one of the most
impressive looking productions at St.Kilda’s National Theatre.